Nixon calls for return of excess funds

Thursday, July 26, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:27 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Attorney General Jay Nixon suggested Wednesday that most candidates should have to return any campaign money they received above the state’s recently reinstated contribution limits.

The Missouri Supreme Court last week threw out a law that had removed contribution limits as of January. It directed parties to file briefs by early August on whether that ruling should apply only going forward or also force candidates who took large contributions for six months to give the excess money back.

The attorney general’s office, representing the Missouri Ethics Commission and the state, filed a memo with the Supreme Court suggesting the ruling should be retroactive, except for candidates who already faced elections or closed down their committees before the court’s ruling.

Nixon argues the court must ensure a level playing field in elections and that any hardship on candidates who raised money under the law at the time, without limits, is outweighed by the burden placed on someone who was not yet running for office against them.

“The inability of some opposing candidates to catch up under the reimposed limits would make the court the effective arbiter of some elections,” the attorney general’s brief said.

Going forward, the old limits are back in place, which restrict individual contributions to $1,275 for statewide candidates, $650 for Senate candidates and $325 for House races.

The attorney general’s office said the court has previously applied its rulings retroactively when declaring laws unconstitutional, unless doing so results in a heavy burden.

“But at this point, there is adequate time for anyone seeking office in 2008 to make up for an adequate portion of the funds that retroactive application requires them to return,” the attorney general’s filing said.

Nixon argued a primary tool of candidates is speech, and the ability to spread a message is tied to funds, so all candidates must be treated equally.

Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Jared Craighead claimed Nixon’s brief amounted to a “politically calculated decision.”

If the court orders candidates to give the money back, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt’s campaign could have to repay at least $3.9 million, while Nixon, Blunt’s likely Democratic challenger in the 2008 elections, would have to return at least $1 million.

“I think it’s more helpful to Jay Nixon in his gubernatorial bid if candidates have to return the money as opposed to having this decision applied prospectively,” Craighead said.

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